Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shockoe Bottom Businesses Sue Over Gaston Flooding

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by Caroline Jackson

Shockoe Bottom businesses are suing the the City of Richmond over damages from Hurricane Gaston they say were caused by the cities ill management of drainage systems. Nineteen businesses are asking for $31 million dollars in a suit the city has not seen yet.

Clearly, the $20 million the city has put into fixing the drainage problem is not enough for the plaintiffs who were closed for months after the storm dumped fifteen inches in one hour.

Owner of City Bar and Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association President Dave Napier chose not to join the suit. After the flood, he received 60,000 dollars in grants coordinated by the city from private donors. He said he didn't want to stab the city in the back. Also, he hadn't been in the bottom as long as other businesses and didn't sustain as much damage. Napier took the opportunity to rebuild his business better than it had been though occasionally he wonders if he should've picked up and gone elsewhere.

A benefit in the bottom was organized with live bands and companies like Phillip Morris chipped in money but Napier says only restaurants and retail qualified for the funds. The suit includes plaintiffs from construction, housing, management, and realty companies.

Napier says he was approached only several months after these businesses were hit to begin preparing a lawsuit. Though he declined, he sympathizes with their claims and says these are some of the Bottom's biggest players who have a strong claim. He says maybe they will send a message to the city who left drainage basins full of silt and gates rusted shut, not allowing water to flow there safely and instead filling Shockoe businesses. The watermark at restaurant Cafe Gutenberg often shocks customers. It stands over the height of the average full ground male.

In a quote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, former Havana '59 owner Mike Ripp said he still thinks the Bottom is at risk of flooding. Napier doesn't seem afraid. He says he knows the city has fixed the drainage problem. Flooding might occur, he says, but it wouldn't be like Gaston. When its rained heavily recently Napier said he would have had 2-3 inches of nuisance flooding in his restaurant's kitchen but instead he didn't have any.

Napier sees this as more than a drainage issue. He thinks businesses are frustrated that the city has been dragging their feet coming up with an economic plan to help businesses recoop money they lost because of the flooding. A recent ballpark plan with a major development company was turned down by the city. Many were against the idea of baseball in the Bottom. Napier says he didn't support the plan because he's a big baseball fan. He's not. But he thinks the city needs a plan to develop a concourse that would meet its new flood regulations and attract people to Shockoe Bottom.

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